Itchy ears are a common problem that can bother you but are not usually harmful. Your ears are full of sensitive neurological fibers (a long, slender projection of a nerve cell that typically conducts electrical impulses). As a result, your ears are subject to a fair share of itching. 

Itchy ears can sometimes indicate an underlying medical condition. Understanding some of the common causes of itchy ears is important to take the next steps.

Your ear consists of the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The ear canal located in your outer ear picks sound waves from the environment and passes them to the middle ear. Your middle ear amplifies the sound waves which are converted by the inner ear into electrical signals and sent to your brain for reception.

Causes of Itchy Ears

1. Swimmer’s Ears. Summers are almost here and you will soon be entering the swimming pool to 'beat the heat!'

Though swimming is a wonderful full-body exercise, it can sometimes cause problems in the ears, like a condition called 'Swimmer's Ears'. Due to the constant presence of water in your ears, and sometimes because of swimming in unclean waters of rivers and ponds, etc., your ears get infected, leading to 'Swimmer's Ears'. It is an infection of your outer ear canal. 

The continuous presence of water in your ears creates a moist environment that helps bacteria or fungi grow, making your ear feel very itchy.

2. Wax accumulation. Earwax is a yellowish, waxy material that is produced by the sebaceous glands located inside your ear canal. It is also known as cerumen. Earwax protects your ear from dust, foreign particles, and microorganisms. It also cleans and lubricates the lining of your ear canal and protects the skin of the ear canal, from irritation due to water. 

When your glands make more earwax than necessary, it is known as earwax buildup, leading to wax accumulation. The presence of excess wax in your ears, especially when it gets excessive or dry, may cause the ears to itch.

3. Dry skin. If your ears don’t produce enough wax, your ear skin can become dry and itchy. You may even notice flaking skin in and around your ears.

4. Eczema and other skin problems. Understand that though the ear is a separate organ by itself, the skin on the outside portion of your ear and ear canal is the same as skin elsewhere. Thus, skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis can affect your ears as well and make them dry and itchy.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition that causes inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough skin. Eczema can affect the area behind your ears as well. Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes red scaly patches of skin and rashes to develop on visible parts of your body, such as your arms or inside your ears.

5. Dandruff. Dandruff is a skin condition that mainly affects the scalp. It usually appears as white flakes and causes itching. Dandruff from your scalp can enter the ear canal and cause intense itching.

6. Use of oil in the ears. Oil is used in a lot of Indian homes as a remedy to treat conditions of the ear. It may provide pain relief for minor earaches, but excessive use can lead to skin infections, making your ears itchy. 

7. Using earphones/hearing aids. Hearing aids can sometimes cause itchy ears because of their plastic coating. Similarly, excessive use of earphones or an allergic reaction to hearing aid moulds/earpieces can cause itching.

8. Fungal infection of the ears. Fungal ear infection known as otomycosis, is an infection of the outer ear. It can become inflamed, with dry, itchy skin and possibly a smelly discharge.

Sometimes a food allergy (an immune reaction to nuts, milk, wheat, soy, sardines) can cause you to have itchy ears, but it is very rare.

Symptoms of Itchy Ears

Itchy ears can feel irritating and bothersome. You may want to scratch to get some relief but scratching will make your itching worse. Itchy ears may sometimes be associated with symptoms like:

  • Fever

  • Swelling

  • Drainage from the ear

When to Seek Doctor’s Advice

Seek medical attention from your ENT specialist if you have severe bleeding due to itchy ears. Your doctor will examine your ears and take a medical history to help identify potential causes and outline the treatment accordingly.

  • It is advisable not to try to clean your ears yourself to clear out the wax.  

  • Never insert cotton buds/swabs/needles/pins/pencil into your ear in an attempt to clean it - you will invariably get into trouble. 

  • Do not instill oil and other products into the ear without a medical prescription or an understanding of the nature of your problem.

In the presence of persistently itchy ears, it is recommended that you have yourself checked to find out the cause of the itching and take treatment as prescribed.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.